Ireland. It’s all just Guinness, Gaelic and good nights out, right? Not quite. You and the rest of the U.K. thought you had Ireland all figured out. Until now. Sure, if you’re well-travelled and well-read, you’ll be aware of some of the hidden gems tucked away in the island’s nooks and crannies. But there’re some treasures that even the Irish themselves aren’t wise to.
Stretching from Kinsale to Malin Head, The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest defined coastal touring route in the world. Made up of six regions spanning 2,500km of coastal road, there’s plenty to discover, see and do. Of course, you’ll be forgiven for not experiencing everything on offer in this captivating corner of the world – anyone would struggle to take in the entirety of Ireland’s Atlantic coast. But that’s part of the magic, the pull that keeps the people who know coming back. Every time you visit Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll find something new and beautiful. So, take a seat, make yourself comfortable and take a journey with us as we explore some of the most convincing excuses to visit The Emerald Isle, The Wild Atlantic Way and their best-kept secrets.
The Northern Headlands
The Northern Headlands, an area spanning Ireland’s northernmost point, to this day remain seemingly untouched and virtually unexplored. Home to the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way, and part of the province of Ulster, this stunning and sparsely populated region is visited in many a tale; wrapped up in folklore, mystery and wonder since the day it was stepped on. Perhaps the rugged beauty of the region was enough to inspire the generations to come; perhaps it’s what kept them here all these years. What we do know is that the first Irish men and women left behind a land cut from the cloth of ancient gods; a story, a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow…
History, Hymns and High Places
Within the Northern Headlands lies Inishowen, a magnificent place steeped in history, culture and natural beauty. It was here – in the waters of Lough Swilly, to be precise – that Sailor John Newton was inspired to write his famous hymn, Amazing Grace. But he wasn’t the first to make history here. A climb atop the hills between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle will earn you the chance to explore Grianán of Aileach, a mysterious and ancient ring fort. Sitting 244m above sea level for over 4,000 years, it’s said the fort was visited by everyone from St Patrick himself to the mythical, god-like race known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. This is a place that will stir your spirit. But just take it from us, see for yourself.
For those willing to brave a hike, the stunning panorama at Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head is a must-see. As you approach the edge, Malin Head’s ragged rock face stretches towards the horizon and opens out into the Atlantic Sea. Here, with nothing between you and the Arctic Circle, the rest of the world is literally at your feet. An hour or so’s drive from these cliffs lies the crown jewel of the Emerald Isle’s beaches, Ballymastocker Bay, voted the second most beautiful in the world by Observer Magazine. And for good reason.
Living On the Edge
Malin Head in Inishowen may reward all those bold enough with a breath-taking scene, but it’s not the only one in town. To the east of County Donegal, Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht (i.e. – a predominantly Irish-speaking region), you’ll find the towering granite walls of Slieve League Cliffs, some of the tallest sea cliffs in Europe at 600m tall. To reach the highest point of Slieve League you’ll have to take a narrow pathway to One Man’s Pass – beware, this route can be a little challenging at times – but your efforts won’t go unanswered. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, brace yourself… then bask in the view.
The Northern Headlands isn’t the only region along The Wild Atlantic Way that deserves your attention. Surf Coast, a world-famous slice of sea on Ireland’s eastern shore is a bucket-list destination for any serious surfer; world champion or amateur alike. But the waves are just the beginning. You’ll find good times, great views and gorgeous food here all year round. Looking for a summer-time shindig? Sea Sessions Festival will provide the party. Ready to dive into Ireland’s rich history? Uncover the ancient and medieval ruins of County Mayo. From wave-riders to sightseers, Surf Coast is a must-go for all explorers looking to indulge in Ireland’s undeniable beauty. After all, the scenery here inspired some of the best work from W. B. Yeats, a foremost figure in 20thcentury poetry and literature. Get some salt in your hair and life in your lungs.
Into the depths
The Atlantic Sea along Ireland’s Surf Coast is the stuff of legend. In truth, you can surf almost the entire western seaboard, but this particular stretch includes Bundoran and the nearby Mullaghmore Head; both renowned for drawing surfers and sight-seers from across the globe. The fabled “Prowlers” wave still remains a little known-gem among renowned hotspots in the surfing community, the exact location of which is a sparsely-shared secret. If you get the chance to see this monster wave spring out of the depths, you’ll understand why only the world’s best dare brave its waters. Beware, The Kraken.
If you’re a surfer, you’ll know all too well what it’s like to get a mouth full of salty water. Fortunately, the shores surrounding Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way are full of far tastier treats to sink your teeth into. Try a food-foraging tour along Killala Bay (don’t worry, the guides won’t let you go hungry), or dive into Sligo’s whiskey bars for a tipple of Ireland’s liquid gold. While you’re exploring the Wild Atlantic Way, remember it’s not all about activity and adventure. When you’re not on your bike, a board or in a pair of walking boots, take a minute to relax at one of the Surf Coast’s seaweed baths or simply picnic at the beach.
The Northern Lights
Alaska, Iceland, Norway… just a few places that come to mind when it comes to The Northern Lights. But what about Ireland? It might not be first on the list, but the Emerald Isle ticks all the boxes. In fact, Ireland is home to not one but two gold-rated dark sky reserves, awarded to only the most exceptional nightscapes. You’ll find these protected areas in County Kerry and County Mayo, where people from all over the globe travel to gaze at the stars. Why? Well, words can’t quite describe. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
You’ll also find next-to-zero light pollution along Ireland’s remote coasts. On the North-Western seafront of County Londonderry stands Mussenden Temple, and Dunluce Castle just 30 minutes east. The respective locations of these magnificent medieval buildings, precariously close to the edge of Ireland’s northernmost cliff faces make both locations special. When the Northern Lights turn up to dance above these ancient silhouettes, you’ll find yourself on the front row for the greatest show on Earth.
Ireland is sometimes overshadowed by destinations in Europe and beyond, but it’s a magical place full of wonders and surprises. See this beautiful land for yourself today, and discover even more with our amazing journey planner.